Update: As of May 30, 2019, British Airways has slightly increased the amount of Avios required for partner flights (such as AA operated flights). Fortunately, this change wasn’t enough to change the fact that British Airways is a great way to book American Airlines (and other OneWorld partner) flights. You can see the changes here.
I use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights quite often. But I realized that I have never posted step-by-step instructions on how to do so. There are several moving parts to this, but once you do it the first time it gets much easier. With the amount of points and money you could save, this is definitely worth learning.
Thanks to British Airways Avios, I saved about $1400 last summer to fly my parents to Dallas last minute when Taylor broke her elbow.
Why would I want to use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights?
This is a great question considering a majority of this blog’s audience is in the US. Most Americans do not collect British Airways Avios. But you do not have to fly British Airways to have access to Avios. You also do not have to have a British Airways credit card. In fact, you may have Avios without even knowing thanks to transfer partners!
You can also use British Airways Avios to book other Oneworld alliance partners.
transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio
The two credit card rewards currencies I mostly collect are Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points. Both of these transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. Neither of these transfer to American Airlines. So if I want to book American Airlines flights and I do not have AAdvantage miles, I can transfer my Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways to book American Airlines flights.
Booking with British Airways may cost less than what AAdvantage charges for the exact same flight
British Airways has a distance based award chart. This can save you lots of points on certain tickets, especially shorter routes that are typically expensive!
For example, a roundtrip direct flight from DFW to Puerto Vallarta costs 25,000 or 30,000 AAdvantage miles (depending on peak and off peak dates). But I can use British Airways Avios to book the exact same flight for only 15,000 Avios. I’ll go over their award ticket pricing in this post.
Generous cancellation policy
American Airlines AAdvantage charges $150 to redeposit your miles if you cancel an award ticket. British Airways will refund your miles and you only lose the taxes. For domestic tickets, the taxes are only $5.60. Now remember, the points you get back are going to be British Airways Avios. And you can’t transfer Avios back to Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards.
For international flights with higher taxes and/or surcharges, you can pay a cancellation fee to get your taxes, fees, and Avios refunded. The fee is $55 which is still better than American Airlines.
No extra charge for last-minute tickets
American Airlines AAdvantage charges $75 per ticket when tickets are booked within 21 days of travel. This is called a close-in fee. British Airways does not have this fee. You will save $75 per ticket by using British Airways rather than American Airlines to book last minute tickets.
How to book American Airlines flights with British Airways Avios
The currency of the British Airways loyalty program (also known as British Airways Executive Club) is Avios, so you will probably see me referring to their miles as Avios. But I use miles, points, and Avios interchangeably sometimes, so don’t let that confuse you.
If you are planning to transfer your Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards, DO NOT TRANSFER YET!! You need to make sure your dates are available and you will want to confirm the exact amount of Avios needed before transferring. Transfers are usually immediate, so there is no reason to transfer before you find availability.
Once you transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards points to partner airlines or hotels, you cannot get them back
When you transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards to a partner airline or hotel, your points become the currency of the airline or hotel program. For example, if you transfer 20,000 Ultimate Rewards to British Airways, you now have 20,000 British Airways Avios. Those Avios are now subject to the rules and policies of British Airways Executive Club.
You CANNOT transfer those points back to Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. So if the dates and American Airlines flights that you want are not available, you are stuck with 20,000 Avios. If you wait to transfer, you can check other Ultimate Rewards or Amex partners for other flight options! For that reason, it is best to wait until you are certain your dates are available before transferring any points. I’ll show you how to confirm availability in the next section.
Can I transfer British Airways Avios to American Airlines?
No. But you can use the British Airways loyalty program to book American Airlines flights.
To be clear, these are instructions for using British Airways Executive Club, the loyalty program of British Airways to book. Forget about the AAdvantage program for now.
The redemption cost is determined by the airline loyalty program with which you are booking your flight
So in this case, you will need to figure out the price according to British Airways Executive Club, NOT American Airlines AAdvantage.
Let me clarify because this is where I lose people.
- The airline operating your flight and the airline whose loyalty program you are using to book may be two different airlines
- If you’re using British Airways Avios to book an American Airlines flight, American Airlines is operating your flight.
- British Airways Executive Club is the program with which you are booking your award flight.
- So the cost of this award ticket is priced by British Airways Executive Club, NOT American Airlines AAdvantage.
Your ticket is going to be issued by British Airways.
The first step is to determine the redemption cost
If the cost is going to be so high that you aren’t going to get a good value out of using your points, you may want to re-think using British Airways Avios. If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards and/or Amex Membership Rewards points, you can and should also check the price of flights using other airlines that are bookable via each program’s partners. In general, British Airways Avios are good for:
- If you live in a city that is an AA hub, you’re probably going to find British Airways Avios very useful.
- If your destination is an AA hub, you’re also going to want to use British Airways Avios for redemptions
- Flights with only 1 connection (2 segments) where at least one segment is relatively short distance.
The reason direct and short-distance flights are ideal is because British Airways has a distance-based award chart.
How is the distance calculated for British Airways Avios redemptions?
British Airways charges for distance per segment, not for total distance. So you’ll have to redeem points for the cost of 2 or more segments if your departure airport is not one with direct flights.
If you live in a city with direct AA flights, many routes cost less than AAdvantage thanks to this award ticket pricing structure of British Airways Executive Club.
American Airlines AAdvantage has a fixed chart and charges the same amount of miles between two regions regardless of the distance or number of connections.
How many British Airways Avios do American Airlines flights cost?
For economy flights:
- 1-650 miles: 4,500 Avios (only outside of US, in US it is 7,500)
- 651-1,151 miles: 7,500 Avios
- 1,152-2,000 miles: 10,000 Avios
- 2,001-3,000 miles: 12,500 Avios
- 3,001-4,000 miles: 20,000 Avios
- 4,001-5,500 miles: 25,000 Avios
- 5,501-6,500 miles: 30,000 Avios
- 6,501-7,000 miles: 35,000 Avios
- 7,001 miles-up: 50,000 Avios
Any AA flight within North America under 1150 miles in distance is 7500 Avios. The greater the distance, the more Avios it will cost.
British Airways charges for distance per segment, so you’ll have to redeem points for 2 or more segments if your flight has connections. At the minimum of 7,500 for US flights, if you have to book 2 segments, that is at least 15,000 Avios each way. For that reason, British Airways may not be ideal if you’re in a city that requires multiple segments and/or long distances. I’ll give pricing examples below.
If you think that the redemption cost of AA flights booked via British Airways is a good option, you will need to make sure flights are available for your dates. Again, do not transfer until you have completed this step.
How to search for award ticket availability for American Airlines flights booked with British Airways
Most airlines limit the amount of award tickets on any given flight. So even if a paid seat is available, you may not be able to book an award seat.
AA flights should show up if you search on British Airways, but the BA website can be a little glitchy. For that reason, I like to check AA.com for availabillty. Also, if your dates are somewhat flexible, I find it easier to search AA.com. I’ll give an example but, click here if you need more detailed instructions.
Do not pay attention to the redemption price when you are searching AA.com
American Airlines and British Always have totally different award ticket pricing systems. The amount of miles that American Airlines shows will probably be different than what British Airways will charge. Remember, if the airline operating the flight and the airline whose loyalty program you are using to book are different airlines, the airline you are using to book determines your redemption price. You are only using AA to check for availability in this situation.
You are looking for MilesAAver tickets. If you only see tickets for your dates that are AAnytime, you WILL NOT be able to use British Airways Avios or any other partner airline to book. Only MilesAAver flights are made available for booking by partner airlines. So you can use British Airways to book AA as long as you see MilesAAver award tickets.
Enter your departure airport, destination airport, dates and number of passengers.
This may be obvious but be sure to select the correct number of passengers before you search. AA defaults to one passenger, and many people forget to change it when looking for 2 or more seats. Then they’re surprised when they go to book and 2 seats aren’t available.
As you can see, Economy MilesAAver is lit up in light green. If tickets are not available, that box would be grey and you would only see dark green for AAnytime tickets. If your dates are really flexible you can also click on “Show full calendar” to show the whole month
Choose your dates and select “continue”
Available flights for your dates will show up. Write down the flight numbers and then continue to the next section of this post. You are now done with American Airlines.
You do not need to do this, but I clicked through to get the total for AAdvantage. I’ll come back to this later in the post. For 2 passengers it is 120,000 miles (so 60,000 each person round trip).
Booking American Airlines award tickets with British Airways Avios
You will need to register for a British Airways Executive Club account if you do not already have one. It’s free. No credit card required.
If you are going to be transferring Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards points, you will need to log in to that account and link it to your British Airways account. Click here for Ultimate Rewards instructions. Click here for Amex MR instructions. DO NOT transfer yet!
Search for your flights with your British Airways account:
Under the Executive Club tab, select Spending Avios
Scroll until you see “Book a reward flight” and click
Enter your dates
In a perfect world, AA flights that you found with MilesAAver space should show up.
But the British Airways website is a little glitchy and sometimes not all AA space shows up. In fact, for the past few months, AA flights were not showing up at all. It appears to be fixed now, but just know that if the MilesAAver flights you found on AA.com don’t show up, you’re going to have to call. The number is 1-800-247-9297.
If the flights show up on BA.com, select your flights
Your redemption cost will show
130,000 Avios is correct, because remember that the search was for 2 tickets and each ticket should be 65,000 Avios. More on that below.
You can go ahead and transfer the amount of Ultimate Rewards needed to BA and then select “Continue” and book.
Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards transferred to airlines are usually posted immediately. Sometimes you have to log out of your account and then log back in.
If the flights do not show up on BA.com, you will need to call. British Airways agents are aware of the problems with the website. They’re usually helpful and pleasant and they should waive any phone booking fees. Wait until the agent has found your flights before transferring. Transfers are immediate so this shouldn’t be a problem. You should be able to transfer and complete the booking while still on the phone. Just have everything with your Ultimate Rewards or Amex account ready to go so that you can transfer as soon as the agent gets your flights ready to book.
That’s it! You will get your email confirmation shortly.
What if I need to make changes to an award ticket issued by British Airways?
A good general rule of thumb is that the airline that issues your ticket is who you will need to deal with for any flight change or cancellation issues that you wish to make prior to your flight. So any cancellations or changes you need to make will need to be handled through British Airways.
On the other hand, issues involving your flight for the day of travel such as baggage policies are usually subject to the operating airline policies. So American Airlines determines your checked baggage pricing. Additionally, your seat assignments will be determined by the airline operating your flight. Since American Airlines allows you to select your seat prior to check in, you can select your seat as soon as you have your record locator from British Airways.
What if I need to add a lap infant to an award ticket booked with British Airways?
If you add a lap infant to an itinerary booked with British Airways Avios, BA will automatically add 10% of the adult Avios required to your cost. But there is no fee to add a lap infant to a domestic ticket operated by American Airlines. For that reason, it is better to wait to add the infant. You can even do this the day or travel. No need to spend an extra 10% of Avios when American Airlines doesn’t charge. I wish BA would fix this glitch, but just keep the number of infants at 0 when you are booking your BA ticket. But international tickets are a different story.
For international tickets, you’re going to have to pay for a lap infant ticket. The cost is usually 10% of the adult fare at the time of adding the lap infant, not the price when you booked the ticket. As you get closer to the travel date and the paid ticket cost rises, the infant ticket would increase.
As you will see below, the paid cost of DFW to Rio around the dates I used in the example is ~$1800. So the lap infant ticket would be ~$180. But British Airways allows you to use Avios to add a lap infant to an adult award ticket. British Airways will add a lap infant to your ticket for 10% of the amount of Avios required for the adult ticket.
For this example, 10% of 65,000 Avios (the adult redemption cost)is going to be 6,500 Avios. This means that you can either redeem 6,500 Avios to add the lap infant or you can pay $180.
How to select seats on American Airlines flights booked with British Airways Avios:
If you want to select your seats, you will need to go to AA.com
Under the Travel Information Tab, click “My Trips”
You can Log in if you have an AAdvantage account, but you don’t have to. You can just select Continue as guest
Enter your first name, last name, and record locator then click “Find Your Trip”
It will bring you to your reservation and you will be able to select seats.
If you have an AAdvantage co-branded credit card, you still get a free first bag even though your ticket was booked through British Airways.
Comparing British Airways Executive Club pricing to American Airlines AAdvantage pricing
This is a moot point if you don’t already have AAdvantage miles since neither Ultimate Rewards nor Amex Membership Rewards transfer to AAdvantage. But if you have AAdvantage plus British Airways Avios or points that can transfer to British Airways, read this carefully.
The price from DFW to Rio is 65,000 Avios roundtrip per person. An extra 15,000 (7,500 each way) was added on because of the connection flight. This prices as DFW-MIA plus MIA-GIG.
- DFW-MIA is 15,000 Avios roundtrip (7,500 each way)
- MIA-GIG is 50,000 Avios roundtrip (25,000 Avios each way)
The above screenshot is the price for 2 passengers from Miami to Rio which is a direct flight. If you are flying direct from Miami to Rio, the flights are only 50,000 Avios roundtrip (or 25,000 each way) per person.
American Airlines has a fixed/region based chart. This means that any route between 2 regions costs the same amount of miles no matter which city you depart from. According to the AAdvantage award chart, flights between the continental US and South America Zone 2 (where Rio is designated) is 30,000 AAdvantage miles each way in economy. The price also doesn’t change when connections are involved.
So the Miami to Rio flight costs the same amount as the DFW to Rio flight, even though there is a connection on the DFW route.
- MIA-GIG booked with AAdvantage is 60,000 miles per person roundtrip
- DFW-GIG booked with AAdvantage is also 60,000 miles per person roundtrip
FYI, paid fares for these flights are pretty high. Over $1700 to be exact. So yes, DFW-GIG may cost you 5,000 more Avios than what AAdvantage would charge, but 65,000 points for a $1700 flight is a value of well over 2 cents per point!
More important information when booking American Airlines flights with British Airways Avios
British Airways is not always the best transfer partner if you plan to use Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards
It’s generally not a good program for longer distance flights, especially when multiple segments are involved. But if at least one of the segments is short, as in the DFW to Rio example, it may be worth it.
It’s also not a great program for longer business class flights. Short haul business class prices are reasonable. For example, DFW to Puerto Vallarta is 15,000 each way or 30,000 roundtrip in business class. But considering that flight is less than 3 hours, I would rather save my points and book economy tickets.
British Airways allows one-way tickets
So if your round-trip flights aren’t available, you could try to look up each way separately and then book one way with British Airways and one way with another airline.
How to earn British Airways Avios
The quickest way to earn Avios is a credit card sign up bonus.
Chase actually issues a BA credit card that periodically offers good sign up bonuses, however, I would apply for Chase cards (specifically, the 5/24 cards you want) and American Express Membership Rewards earning cards first. Earning Ultimate Rewards and/or Amex Membership Rewards gives you access to British Airways Avios, plus several other partners.
Other ways to earn Avios:
- BA has a shopping portal. But Ultimate Rewards also has a shopping portal, so if you have a Chase Sapphire card, I would shop through that portal since the Ultimate Rewards you earn can be transferred to BA plus others!
- You can earn by flying on paid tickets (the old-fashioned way of accruing miles)
I hope this post has cleared up some questions about using transfer partners and partner airlines. I understand this gets confusing and if anyone has any questions please feel free to comment or contact me!
If you haven’t started collecting Chase Ultimate Rewards, start today. You can earn a welcome bonus of 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points. American Express Membership Rewards is my next favorite currency to collect, and those points also transfer to British Airways!
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- Bonus: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points
- Minimum spend for bonus: $4,000 in 3 Months
- Annual Fee: $95
- Bonus Categories: 2 points per dollar on travel and dining
Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
- Minimum spend for bonus: $4,000 in 3 months
- Annual Fee: $450
- Bonus Categories: 3 points per dollar on travel and dining
- Notable benefits: $300 travel credit per calendar year, $100 reimbursement for TSA or Global Entry enrollment, airport lounge access
The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Bonus: 60,000 Amex Membership Rewards points
- Minimum spend for bonus: $5,000 in 3 months
- Annual Fee: $550
- Bonus Categories: 5 points per dollar on flights booked direct through airlines, 5 points per dollar on travel booked through amextravel.com
- Notable benefits: $200 airline incidental reimbursement per calendar year (click here for more info), $200 total in Uber credits annually, $100 reimbursement for TSA precheck or Global Entry enrollment, airport lounge access, 100$ total in statement credit for purchases at Saks Fifth avenue annually
Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
- Bonus:40,000 Membership Rewards points
- Minimum spend for bonus: $2,000 in 3 months
- Annual Fee: $195, waived for the first year
- Bonus Categories: 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines, 2 points per dollar at US restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores.
- Notable benefits: $100 annual airline incidental credit